Friday, 19 May 2017

We Meet In Paradise - Theatre Fragile at The Forum, Norwich

It cannot be easy producing a piece of public theatre that delivers a powerful message about issues concerning refugees, asylum seekers and global displacement, yet still contain humanity, warmth and an ironic twist, but that is exactly what Berlin-based Theatre Fragile presented to us in Norwich this week as part of the 2017 Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

Two shows in The Forum, enacted beneath Luke Jerram's beautiful Museum of the Moon (rain unfortunately managed to scupper planned outdoor performances on both evenings) pull no punches in portraying the trauma and danger involved in escaping a war-torn homeland and seeking safe passage to a foreign land. This theatrical collage of masked performers and soundtrack commentary begins with a lone, spinning black box representing a boat at sea. Two masked survivors make it to land, only to find the relief of safety tainted by resentment and hostility.

As the refugees find their feet, learn our language, and begin to contribute, both culturally and economically, something rather beautiful happens. In the closing scenes of We Meet In Paradise it is they that are welcoming us, and offering the hand of friendship. What better inverted metaphor could there be for tolerance, friendship and shared humanity?

We Meet In Paradise manages to turn bleakness and despair into camaraderie and warmth within the space of just over an hour, and the welcome and discussion continues long after. Performed by a small cast from the company together with local actors and volunteers, the show is presented by IN SITU, an organisation of 24 partners (Norfolk & Norwich Festival being one) with a remit to produce and present art in the European public space.

I was present for both shows, firstly as a volunteer festival steward on the Wednesday, then returning on the Thursday to fully engage with the performance. The only disappointment had to be the weather. Whilst the audiences that packed into The Forum's main atrium were treated to a memorable and personal performance, many would clearly have already been enlightened to the themes and issues involved. Local members of Amnesty International were on hand with leaflets and banners, but one wonders how many extra minds and attitudes could have been swayed and changed on a pleasantly warm and dry May evening?

A huge thank you to Marianne Cornil, Luzie Ackers and the cast of Theatre Fragile for bringing such a relevant and thought-provoking performance to the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. It was certainly one that will leave an impression on those present that will persist long after the festival concludes.

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